Friday in Focus: Jason Brickhill (Oxford)

by | Nov 3, 2017

As a Zimbabwean and South African, I grew up in a family where my parents had been among the many people of their generation to join the armed struggle for the liberation of their countries from racist minority rule. I had a strong sense of wanting to contribute towards building a more just society – and I believed that public interest law was my way to do this.

I came to Oxford a year ago, leaving practice in South Africa. I was the Director of the Constitutional Litigation Unit at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). The LRC is a leading public interest law firm in South Africa, established during apartheid to use law as an instrument to resist the injustices of the time. Since the democratic transition, the LRC has continued to serve the same communities – using law to promote social justice.

My work at the LRC was wonderfully varied and meaningful. I worked, in particular on housing, education, and refugees’ rights, and I got to interact with inspiring clients, community leaders, activists and lawyers. Among the cases I argued were the long-running silicosis litigation, culminating in the certification of a massive class action against the gold-mining industry; the decision of the Constitutional Court recognising the right to civil legal aid; its decision confirming that the right to education applies to all students at all schools, not only state schools; and the Commission of Inquiry into the police shootings at Marikana. During my time in practice, I also taught in South Africa and at Oxford, and published on topics related to constitutional law, human rights and public interest litigation.

After eight years at the LRC, I wanted to explore a question that troubled me: What difference does public interest litigation make? Can it contribute meaningfully to social justice?  How do we think about its impact and assess it? Being a public interest lawyer, I realised, also made me part of an elitist profession and it was hard to critically look at the big picture from the inside. Was I – were all of us doing such work – contributing in some ways, but complicit in others? This is the motivation for my current research. Having completed the MSt in International Human Rights Law at Oxford before, I decided to apply to undertake a DPhil. My research looks at the impact of strategic litigation in South Africa, supervised by Sandy Fredman and Kate O’Regan.

At Oxford, as a part of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, I have blogged about the Marikana Commission and other significant cases, most recently on the vote of no confidence against President Zuma. I have contributed to the education litigation course and on some upcoming projects on strategic litigation. Most importantly, of course, I have found a happy home at Trinity College, where I am MCR President, and am probably at my happiest playing table tennis for the University.

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1 Comment

  1. Binah Taylor

    Hello Jason. I read with interest your work in human rights and the spirit of your activism. I think your enquiry into the impact of public interest litigation is both relevant and important. Many years ago, I was a very small but passionate contributor in support of a just society – mainly in the form of protest – while a student at University of Natal, particularly btw 1970-72. I was friends with Halton Cheadle and Carel Tip, whom I believe went on to work as a human rights lawyer. Have long since left SA and travelled the world (continuing my activism in different ways), but wonder what happened to them. I also have a personal question: are you by any chance related to Dale or John Brickhill who are cousins of mine? If so, I hope to be able to contact them. Good luck with your research.

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